How to Identify Harmful Backlinks

The links leading to your site are still an important and powerful factor for search engine optimization.

Despite many improvements in Google’s processes for finding and serving quality content1, links still play a big role.  In fact links are one of Google’s primary ranking factors2.

If you have bad links leading to your site, the chances that it will be ranked lower in search for relevant queries are much greater. Like other scenarios in law firm SEO3, there are various places along a spectrum that your site could fall.

One bad link from a spammy porn site for example might not make a dent but many links (especially in comparison to your total number of links) can penalize your site4 or cause it to disappear from its previous position in search.

Bad links can also cause your site to be de-indexed all together.

Finding bad links can be a tedious process especially if you have a lot of them. This post will show you some methods for identifying links that could be harming your rankings.

Link Detox

There are a lot of manual methods5 that we’ll get to in a minute but if you want to save time, Link Detox6 is a pretty good tool. I use it on a regular basis and it works very well for assessing your overall risk of having bad links on your domain.

Link Detox home page

The software uses an algorithm to detect unnatural back links and incorporates data from hundreds of thousands of users. It gets updated alongside Google’s algorithm updates and has built-in features for anchor text analysis.

Unlike doing things manually, you get easy-to-read graphics, graphs, and reports for your website. Otherwise you will be doing some tedious analysis on your own but you can always make your own graphs and charts in Excel.

Surefire Ways to Tell if you Have Bad Backlinks

If you have malware detected on your site, it is a safe bet that you have bad links leading to your domain as well. Malware occurs when hackers take control of your site and the worst attacks are the ones that go un-detected.

Example of hacked Search result

Once someone gains control of your site, they typically try and trick users into clicking links that appear legitimate (because they are on your site) but lead elsewhere. They will also typically direct traffic to the affected site.

You can significantly reduce your risk of having malware installed on your domain by using one of many free tools available on the web7.

For example Google monitors sites registered with webmaster tools. You can check in their free interface if you have been infected by malware. Bing also has a similar tool.

Your Site was de-Indexed

Google works hard to ensure users get good content when they search8.  In extreme cases Google may choose to completely remove a website from its search results9.

Use the site:operator and if you don’t see your domain listed in Google search results, it has been de-indexed. There are a number of reasons that Google would remove a domain from its index but one of the most common reasons are unnatural link patterns.

A URL that is not indexed

Check your back link profile first if there are no other obvious reasons for being de-indexed. Chances are you might find something fishy going on.

Note that if there is a URL you want removed from Google search, Google’s URL removal tool10 is an effective way to do that.

Manual Review

If you were thinking there was some magical process to finding bad back links on your site, there is not.

Aside from using third party software, the whole process is a matter of finding links to other sites that do not belong.  If you are doing a manual review of inbound links to your site, here is an easy and free way to do it.

1. Submit your site to Google Webmaster Tools (now called Search Console) if it is not listed already.

Adding a site to Google Webmaster Tools
2. Export the list of links to a CSV file.

Download Links from Webmaster tools
3. Remove duplicated domains if there are any (sometimes the list will contain multiple pages on the same domain).

4. Start visiting domains that you do not recognize or that seem suspicious.

If you have a ton of links, this will obviously take a lot longer than if you only have 100 or so root linking domains. Note that you do not have to look at every single link leading to your site, only the root domains.

By looking at the root domain (i.e., you can get a pretty good idea if you want it linked to your site or not.  Look at the content and the PageRank of the domains you visit. Some domains are obviously porn or spam domains but others may be harder to spot.

If you are not familiar with what is no good, look for spun content (text re-written by a machine) or in general, poorly constructed content that has no other purpose but to serve as a front for an advertising site.

If the site does not appear to be involved in legitimate business or set up to add value to the web in some way, chances are it is spam.  The next thing to do is to get rid of the bad backlinks11 that may be hindering your site’s SEO.



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